Y’all. I gotta be honest. I’m not sure about 2016. We may need a do over.
Something big happens, I start thinking about it, and before I can even finish, some asshole shows up with yet another AR-15. I can’t even process that one yet.
If I can’t make crazy stop happening, I guess I’m going to have to embrace being behind.
So here’s what I was in the middle of before Sunday, June 12th:
Muhammad Ali (AKA: Cassius Clay) died last week. He’d always been a favorite of mine, representing that idealized period before I was born, the heyday of the 1950s and 60s, the sanitized and oft revered decades where us white folks could support our families on one (man’s) income while mothers stayed home, wiping out the new Fridgdaire and hosting monthly bridge parties. A time when our children didn’t retreat with an iPad to their bedrooms but instead, huddled around the family radio (or TV if you were lucky) listening/watching Cassius fight.
Of course it wasn’t quite the same for Cassius and his community in Louisville, KY. Both of his parents worked, his father as a billboard painter, his mother as a (white woman’s) housekeeper. It never was the same for black folks. Still isn’t.
When Muhammad Ali was drafted into the Vietnam war he declared he was a conscientious objector saying, among other things, “They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they never put no dogs on me. How can I shoot those poor people?” He continued, “I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation…” He was sentenced to five years in prison for that particular fighting stance.
He wasn’t talking about those poor, pitiful Viet Cong. He meant those POOR people. Poor like he’d been. Like most of the people he’d been raised with had been. People brown like he was. He couldn’t see marching off to fight a rich man’s war against other poor people.
The man knew what he was talking about.
About a year ago I wrote a post about feeding my large family on a small budget. I thought it was the most dry and inconsequential thing I’d ever committed to paper. It went viral. Shows what I know.
Since then I’ve gotten hundreds of comments, thousands if you consider the ones left on articles that reference my post. For the most part, those comments fall into two categories:
- Thank you, it’s not perfect but it helps.
- You ignorant irresponsible welfare mom, you have too many kids and you feed them too many carbs.
But then in January, while stranded in Maine, I got an entirely different kind of comment. It’s taken me this long to decide what to do with it. Here it is:
Try feeding people on a social worker salary, about twenty grand a year less than a teacher salary. I am so sick and tired of hearing about how poorly paid teachers are when there are whole categories of people with college degrees who make a LOT less money. Even adjunct faculty at the local state college barely make minimum wage while local elementary teachers are around 50K a year. Probation officers are another group who are way more poorly paid than teachers and just as educated. And what about people who never got around to going to college or went to college but can only find steady work in fast food or poorly paid service industry jobs? Teacher salaries and benefits sound really good to them@! It is very off putting to hear someone complaining that she has to budget because she is living on a ‘teacher’s salary’. I think the only people who get teary eyed over that are teachers and people who make six figures and feel guilty over it. The rest of us po’ folks are not real impressed.
Wide-eyed, I slid my phone to Mike, who read it and told me to delete it. “It’s rude. Don’t waste your time.”
But I couldn’t.
It wasn’t just the misconstruction (if someone made 20k less than Mike in his first year of teaching they’d make $5,000/year, after 13 years – $25,000) but also the blatant poor people vs. poor people rhetoric.
Why attack me because you think I’m not as poor as you? Why pit social workers against teachers? Aren’t we all in the same boat? Aren’t we all doing good work that we’re proud of for ridiculously low compensation? Aren’t we all struggling to pay mortgages/rent for the same price that some people blow on a weekend vacation?
We’d do well to heed Ali’s example today.
Today when politicians are trying to vie one poor population against another. Today, when Donald Trump is overtly or not so overtly trying to pit poor whites against poor blacks and poor hispanics. Today, when once again, rich people are trying to tell poor people that other poor people are the problem.
Let me be clear: Poor people are never going to be the problem unless we stop bickering, get together behind our common good, and make ourselves, as a unit, a problem.
And why should we? Why make trouble? Why not accept our lot or try to make ourselves better? After all, rich people are rich because they work harder, sacrifice more, delay gratification, refuse to go into debt, right?
Just like poor people are poor because they refuse to work their way up from the bottom. Or they drop out of school, spend more than they earn, refuse to plan for the future, don’t even try.
But most of time you have ordinary people working extraordinarily hard. Getting up in the dark to get their kids to school, going to work, coming home, making dinner, checking homework, paying bills, falling into bed.
And some of those people make $30,000 a year and some of them make $300,000.
Knowing that, maybe we should all go for the $300,000 jobs: surgeons, high profile attorneys, hedge fund managers, CEOs of major corporations.
Yes, but who would teach our children, cut our meat, make our art, or protect our streets?
The reality is, until we, as a society, value work equally, we need people who are willing to work hard for little.
But those of us who do work hard for little should not, even for a second, consider each other the enemy. If there’s gonna be an us against them, at least we should not accept an us against us.
Here’s the truth: I have poor friends and I have wealthy friends. For the most part, the poor people I know would be flabbergasted by an additional $30,000 a year. My wealthy friends would be stunned by such a reduction. Money, like time, expands to fill whatever space allotted to it.
I know no Trumps. I’ve never met a Vanderbilt or an Ingram, those for whom $30,000 equals a dinner party, a ski weekend or perhaps a sixteen-year-old’s first car. I have, however, met a whole lot of people who feel like they are just getting by, some making $20,000 a year, some making $200,000. And yes, there is a difference. But not nearly the difference that exists between those people and folks making $500,000,000 a year. If there’s gotta be a “them” it’s them, not me, not you. (Of course if you’re reading this blog and you do make half a billion dollars a year, please, be a patron. Slumming is fun.)
So, Dear Anonymous, your comment has finally been moderated, please consider this my response. In the meantime, like Cassius Clay, this particular “po’ folk” refuses to travel 10,000 miles, or even one sentence across the Internet to fight other poor people.